Allow me to introduce myself. I’m a 20 year-old student who was raised in Kenya. I’ve spent most of my life in a private school in Mombasa, one that is fully furnished with tables, chairs and (most importantly, to me) computers. However, the block next to that school was a public school that was visible to me every second of my primary and secondary education; cracked windows, no desks or chairs, peeling paint and no form of technology at all. Those images still remain burned in my mind, 4 years after leaving Kenya to move to the UK.
Computer Aid really attracted me as a place to spend my summer volunteering, as they are one of the principle providers of IT equipment to schools like the one I remember. They have bestowed over 200,000 PCs to schools and hospitals in third-world countries, and have recently been sending zubaboxes (mobile solar internet containers) to communities in Africa. Their approach of nurturing the recipients’ technological skills is also very commendable, as many charities give the proverbial man lots of fish instead of teaching him how to fish. Computers, unfortunately, do not grow on trees. Computer Aid gets old computers via corporate and individual donations, and a team of volunteers data-wipes them, refurbishes them and prepares them to be sent to the developing world. Every PC is asset-tracked, which means an individual donor who’d wish to know where his old ACER laptop has travelled to, can find out exactly what primary school it currently resides in.
I volunteer. It sounds nice. Looks good on your CV, and there is always that sense of satisfaction when you get to say it out-loud to someone else. The word ‘volunteer’ holds about as much romantic resonance as telling someone you climbed Mt Fuji last summer…well, not exactly, but it makes you sound like a ‘good’ person. When we think of volunteering we unwittingly relate images of blissful hard-labor, being carried out by young, fit, helping hands. Sometimes there is even a spade, red soil, usually a well, and almost always – it’s somewhere sunny and distant.
I began volunteering with Computer Aid just over a month ago. Remember the ‘teach a man to fish’ ad? Yes; of course you do. Well this is the premise behind Computer Aid; except let’s swap fishing for ICT, (stay with me folks). This unassuming NGO, from the suburbs of London, takes your old donated computer, refurbishes it, wipes any existing data and sends it for re-use to other NGO’s, schools and hospitals around the developing world. Every PC is asset tracked; so you can find out exactly what project you are helping, and to what country your jet-setting PC has travelled to. Now; I know what you’re thinking – people can’t eat computers or use them to farm. After just the first day of volunteering, this pre-conception was disproved for me. Well, sort of. Let me begin by dodging some serious legal repercussions and confirm that: no, you cannot eat a PC. But ICT is an invaluable tool for farmers in developing countries…and doctors…and students.
As a volunteer this does not mean that I and the team travel to the likes of Kenya or Chile with PCs for donation. I was hired for an administrative role and to carry out support functions for the Fundraising Department. However, every day since beginning at Computer Aid has been different and, (without sounding too much like an encyclopedia salesman), not a day passes when I don’t learn something new about the workings of an NGO. Since joining I have taken part in a number of projects current to Computer Aid including fundraising for the EMAP awards, attended the Sustainability Live Exhibition and helped raise Computer Aid’s online Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter profiles. Which leads me to my first point of advice for charity pilgrims…